The Reverend E. Milner Swift 1924-1940
The Reverend E. Milner Swift 1924-1940
"We had this staid old clergyman, very stiff and starchy, then along comes your father, married with two sons. It seems almost immoral!"
So said a friend to the fourteen year old Theo Swift when his father became vicar of Hale.
The odd thing was, that although the PCC and Mr Brunskill had carefully drawn up a list of requirements for his successor, Revd. E. Milner Swift was appointed as a result of a misunderstanding, as Theo remembers:
'Canon Lowry Hamilton of Bowdon was Patron of the living and a very keen cricketer. Once a year there was a cricket match between a team of clergy from the Deanery and a team of all the legal lights who lived in and around Hale. Lowry Hamilton heard that Revd. Swift was a very good cricketer. He called my father and asked him if he would be interested in filling the vacancy al St. Peter's. My father accepted, but he was not the Revd. Swift who was the brilliant cricketer. Lowry Hamilton had written to the wrong Revd. Swift.'
However, the wrong man for the team was the right man for the parish.
There could have been no greater contrast. He was a man of the moment, frequently preaching about the Christian perspective on current events. He was the first clergyman in this area to broadcast from the Manchester wireless station, 2XY. Inevitably, a younger, family man was likely to be more energetic and more in tune with the young people of the parish.
More people than ever before, especially young people, were involved in the many activities he instigated. ‘My father was instrumental in starting St. Peter's Dramatic Society,' said Theo, and he also started Passion plays which were held in church. He wrote them himself as he did many of the plays the Dramatic Society did. He started a Rambling Club, a Tennis Club and a Badminton Club. He strung lights across the Vicarage lawn and held croquet tournaments late into the summer evenings and it was on that lawn that 4th Hale (St. Peters) Cub Pack would play after their meeting in the vicarage cellar when they were formed towards the end of Mr Swift's time in the parish. He was convinced that these activities kept the young people in the church and time would seem to have proved him right.
Many members of St. Peters today remember them and met through them. Betty Prestwich moved to Hale with her family in 1933 and began to attend St. Peters. She was later to serve on the PCC for a record 39 years and the two brothers, Ken and Phillip Baguley, who joined the Choir in 1942 and 1940 respectively, greet our Centenary year with a total of 100 years of service between them.
Betty recalls the constant use to which the Assembly Rooms and its surrounds were put. Where the car park is now, were a tennis court and a croquet lawn with another tennis court parallel to the railway line at the back. In the winter, events moved indoors, with badminton in the main room, table tennis in the room behind the stage and billiards in the small assembly room which, at that time was even smaller than today. The stage was the selling for the Dramatic Society productions.
The Youth Fellowship was started by the Bishop of Chester, Geoffrey Fisher, later Archbishop of Canterbury, He called a meeting in Chester which Betty, Charlie Jones and Mary Skinner attended. Duly briefed, they returned and began by having one meeting a month on a Sunday evening. Those chose a preacher for Evensong and he came afterwards to the Assembly Rooms where they had tea and biscuits and discussed his sermon. At the service, members of the Fellowship read the lessons and took collection. Such involvement was remarkable for that time. The age group was 17 to 35.
One meeting a month did not seem to be enough and so the Y.F. arranged to meet at the house of the curate, Daniel Glyn Morgan at 50 Westgate. Adopting the format of the popular radio programme "In Town Tonight', the Fellowship would invite noted or topical speakers to lake part in 'In Hale Tonight". Guests included Roy Chadwick, the designer of the Lancaster bomber who lived in Hale and whose daughters were members of the Recreational Society. (One of these, Rosemary, met Fred Lapham in the Fellowship and they married. He subsequently became Canon Lapham. Sadly, Roy Chadwick was killed on a test flight.) Another guest was the Chairman of Manchester United who brought something he thought they might like to see. Lifting it out of the back of his car, he carried in the FA Cup which United had just won.
Another favourite was 'Desert Island Discs".
The Y.F. was also a vehicle for raising money. One of the ways was to hold a 'Mock Wedding'. A boy and a girl pretended to be getting married and people were invited to the 'wedding' and the 'wedding breakfast' afterwards. They brought 'gifts' which were then sold and money raised. Another scheme anticipated the Scouts 'Bob A Job' method of many years later: a Job Agency to which parishioners would apply to have jobs done by members. Payment would go to which ever cause was being supported. Every year, there was a week of work for Missions and a Missionary Bazaar.
Nearer home, some of these young people were involved in very real and difficult missionary work. Much of the area of St. Peter's parish had originally belonged to the parish of St. John's, Altrincham and a daughter church of that was St. Elizabeth's Mission church in Newtown, Altrincham, which used to be at the end of Tipping Street, by Hale Road Bridge.
Charlie Jones' uncle was Sunday School Superintendent at St. John's and called upon Charlie and his friends to come to be teachers. Fred and Betty Prestwich were leaders, respectively, of the boys and girls Crusader Bible classes. They went to teach at St. Elizabeth's, as did Charlie's future wife, Margaret. She writes: 'We had quite a lot of children in two classes and they really were rough, it was difficult at times to keep order. I did not know until then what real poverty was.'
Fred Prestwich agrees: ‘In those days poverty was very harsh. Newtown was a bad slum area. It was a dangerous area to walk through. They reckoned Altrincham’s slums were second only to Glasgow's. The policemen used to go in pairs. I used to go to St. Elizabeth's wearing a trilby hat as was fashionable then. I often had it knocked off. Bricks were thrown at the church windows and charges made at the doors. Vandalism is nothing new.' Nevertheless, Fred and Betty and Margaret used to go there every Sunday evening and, in the summer, a train was chartered to take the children from St. Elizabeth's to St. Annes-on-Sea.'We had a day on the sands and a slap-up tea' Fred remembers.
The seaside was the acme of entertainment in those days, long before continental holidays were possible let alone popular as far as most people were concerned. Ada Pearce lent her house 'Cliffedge' at Penryn Bay, North Wales to St. Peters youth groups, providing many happy memories of those carefree pre-war days.
As the new Societies flourished in the church, two of the old ones faded away for lack of support, the Literary Society and the Church Lads Brigade. At the same time, the PCC was not in favour of the growth of secular entertainment on the Sabbath and sent a letter to the local MP to protest against legislation to legalise the opening of theatres and cinemas on Sunday.
Foremost among the protestors must surely have been Miss Agnes Hall, one of the characters of the parish. A regular attender, not only at Sunday worship where she had her own seat (and black looks greeted anyone unwise enough to take it), but at funerals. She loved them and would attend in black from head to foot. The vicar said that if a meeting had to be cancelled, there was no need to telephone around, just tell Aggie and the whole parish would know, such was her reputation for gossip. Theo recalls her coming into church when he was playing the organ and then rushing over to the Vicarage to report him for playing 'Sing Hallelujah' - not the sacred work it might sound but the show-stopper from the musical 'Hit the Deck'.
There was a division of opinion as to whether the tennis courts at the Assembly Rooms should be made into hard courts. Some were all for it. Others, seeing war approaching, were against it as a waste of money. Sadly, the prophets of doom were right and the splendid new hard courts were neglected through the war and when it was over were made into the car park.
In the meantime, throughout the war, St. Peter's once again handed over the Assembly Rooms for ‘active service'. This time, first of all, as a school, accommodating boys evacuated from Guernsey when the Germans invaded. When they moved to join the pupils at St. Ambrose's in Hale Barns, it served as a kitchen for the British Restaurant across the road in the United Reformed Church Rooms and later for the schools meals service.
The evicted Sunday School adopted an old stratagem and returned to St. Baldred’s Hall (the Conservative Club today). From there, it, and the Youth Fellowship moved to a very odd location, premises in Crown Passages (now the car park behind Iceland) over which there was a room. The Youth Fellowship were offered £100 from the church if they would clean it up. Margaret Jones remembers: 'It took a long time, evenings and weekends, before it was finished but we got the £100 and some of it went to charity.' The Sunday School used it for some years. ‘An absolute death trap’ Ada Pearce recalled it as being, 'a very unsafe wooden structure. But we never thought of that in those days. The Sunday School kindergarten met above the then Ware's Café’ on the corner of Ashley Road and Westgate.
In December 1939, Mr. Swift had accepted the living of Wanborough in Wiltshire. He was succeeded by Revd. Tom Greenwood who was to be vicar of Hale throughout the war.